Teddie, once she was alone in her studio, experienced a sense of confinement, a feeling of compression, which had hitherto been absent from her newer mode of life. She felt the need for untrammelled movement through fresh air, the craving to get out into open spaces and leave the suffocation of city walls behind her. She promptly decided, in fact, to drive her car out to Tuxedo, and even went to the telephone to order it from the garage. Then she remembered that she no longer had a car.
But this, in the face of the denudations with which life had been confronting her, did not impress her as a very vast deprivation. She merely called for another number and ordered a taxi, contenting herself with the thought of three gasoline-flavored hours in that rus in urbe known as Central Park.
But Teddie did not go gloom-riding in Central Park. For when she opened the door to what she thought to be a taxi-driver she found Gerry West there with his hat in his hand and a look of triumph in his eyes.
"Well, I've got it back," he announced, only momentarily abashed by the iciness of her manner.
"Got what back?" asked Teddie, without so much as asking him to step inside.
"Your car," explained Gerry, entering the abode of art on his own hook. "It's down at the door. And I had 'em put on a new pair of lamps on the way over."
"I'm sure that was very kind of you," Teddie coldly admitted. But her attitude was something more than unbending. It was distinctly hostile. For there were certain things which she wasn't quite able to forget.
"Say, Teddie," demanded her quick-eyed visitor, entirely ignoring her expression in his comprehensive stare about the studio, "what in the name of heaven are you doing in a dump like this?"
"It seems to have proved an entirely satisfactory place to me," Teddie responded with the utmost dignity.
"But has it?" demanded Gerry, putting down his hat.
"It would, if I were left alone," said Teddie, biting her lips.
"And what would that meant? What would that bring you?" asked Gerry, with a suddenly sobered face.
"It would bring me the freedom I want," retorted Teddie, with a challenge still in her gaze.
"That is the one thing it could never do, O Helen of the Ruinous Face!" corrected Gerry. But Teddie, who was in no sense a classical student, saw nothing remarkably appropriate in this allusion to the ancients.
"What makes you think that?" she asked, with a tremor in her voice. She hadn't intended any retreat from her earlier severity of tone. She prided herself on not being the sort of girl who would willingly show the white feather. But Gerry had touched on something which had been bewildering her, of late, more than she was ready to acknowledge.
"The things that have been happening around here," he had the brutality to retort, "the things I'm now trying to straighten out for you!"
And remembering those things, the sense of her desolation returned to her double-fold. She walked to the window, looked out, and then turned slowly about. She was neither obtuse nor unsympathetic; she was merely a girl who had been prodigiously preoccupied with her fight for freedom and the depressing discovery that it was a losing fight.
"Oh, Gerry, what's the matter with me, anyway?" she demanded with an altogether unlooked-for note of wistfulness in her voice.
"Don't you know?" he said as he followed her to the window. "Don't you know, you poor little muddle-headed kid?"
Teddie shook her head. She was rather foolishly afraid that Gerry was going to be sympathetic, and she didn't want that, for sympathy, of late, seemed the inevitable overture to the unmusical opera of mushiness.
"I'll tell you what's the matter with you, Teddie," asserted Gerry, wondering why she was refusing to meet his gaze. "You're inflammatory without quite knowing it. You're provocative, without being foolish enough to have fathomed the fact. The Lord made you so lovely, girl, that you put an ache in men's hearts and a mist in front of their eyes. You make them forget themselves. And that's why I've got to take you in hand."
"Take me in hand?" repeated Teddie, standing up very straight and white.
"Yes, take you in hand," repeated Gerry in turn.
"I rather think I've something to say about that!"
"Teddie, I've loved you all my life," said Gerry, quite simply, disregarding even the abysmal scorn in her voice.
"Then this is no time to tell me a thing like that," she retorted with spirit.
"And you're wrong there,' ' contended Gerry, quite unmoved. "It's the only, the essential time."
"What makes you feel that way about it?" asked Teddie, disturbed by the darkening light in his eye.
"Because heaven only knows how long we can be alone here," was his not altogether satisfactory reply.
"I fail to see any particular advantage arising out of our our temporary isolation," retorted Teddie, with quite unexpected Johnsonian dignity.
"Teddie!" was Gerry's sharp cry as he towered over her. "Don't you understand?"
"Understand what?" asked the girl with the exasperatingly level gaze as she surveyed the none too steady hands which he was holding out toward her.
"That I can't help kissing you!" he abandonedly exclaimed as he just as abandonedly proceeded to do so.
Teddie drew slowly away from him. He had seen children draw back, that way, from a milk-snake coiled up in a chocolate-box. Her eyes were blazing.
"Now I know you're no better than——"
But that was as far as Teddie got. For the door was flung open and a protesting and much dishevelled Louis Lipsett was piloted into the room. He was piloted in without ceremony, and by the lapel of his overcoat. The hand that grasped that collar was Gunboat Dorgan's, and the lines of his wide mouth were grim with determination.
"Call off this wildcat," gasped Louis as he dropped weakly into a chair. "Call him or I'll get a shooting-iron and kill him!"
Gerry tried to remove the steel-corded hand from the uptwisted coat-collar, but Gunboat Dorgan betrayed no slightest intention of relaxing his hold.
"Not on your life," he irately announced. "Not until he eats every word of it!"
"Of what?" demanded Gerry, with an abstracted and mildly perplexed inspection of Louis Lipsett's person.
"Don't listen to him," cried the prisoner. "He's gone crazy. He's gummed up the whole game. He came tearing into Uhlan 's studio when I had the big bounder scared stiff, had him eating out of my hand and willing to sign any kind of quit-claim I was ready to hand out. He blew in there ready to eat Uhlan up, until he found out I was from The Star and heard that tricky brush-tickler swear his lips were sealed and then step from under by saying it was me and my paper that were going to open up on a full-page story. Me, mind you, with all I'd done! Then this East Side rat-terrier let loose, and wouldn't even give me a chance to get to a phone and have you put things straight or call up our sporting-editor to shoot a little reason into his empty nut. He's hauled me around like a civet-bag and dragged me down here across eleven city blocks to say what you very well know I don't even need to say. And I call this a fine line of reporting, this ghost-laying for a bunch of love-sick idiots who're so afraid of printer's ink they're playing tennis with bank-checks over it. For I'm not the only thing he 's collared, I want y' to understand. He collared old Shotwell as well and shook that twenty-five-thousand-dollar draft out of him and has got it right here in his jeans while he's joy-riding on the back of my neck! But I'm tired of being bullyragged and manhandled and having my clothes spoilt, and if this rising star of suburban ring doesn't get his fingers out of my back hair inside of ten seconds I'm going to let loose with something more than ink before the day is over."
"Let him go!" commanded Gerry, in his most authoritative grand-jury voice. "This man is acting for Miss Hayden, is very generously and unselfishly acting for Miss Hayden."
"Am I now?" gritted Louis Lipsett, breathing hard and writhing his disordered clothing back into place.
"Well, so am I," averred Gunboat Dorgan as he tossed Teddie's much crumpled check out on the cherrywood table. "And I want 'o know," he continued as he confronted Gerry West, "just what call yuh've got for buttin' in on this?"
"I am acting for Miss Hayden," Gerry announced with gravity.
"We're all acting for Miss Hayden!" mocked Louis, with a foolish upward movement of his hands. But Gunboat ignored that derisive interruption.
"In what way 're yuh actin' for her?" he demanded, with his shoulders squared and his chin out.
"As her husband," said Gerry with a grimness which was quite new to him.
Gunboat swung slowly about and stared at the girl on the other side of the cherrywood table. He saw a slow flush creep up into the shell pink of her cheeks.
"Are yuh married to this mucker?" he demanded, with a thumb-jerk toward the unobserving Gerald Rhindelander West. And he swallowed hard as he put the question, just as Teddie used to swallow hard when she beheld the castor-oil bottle being lifted down out of the medicine cabinet.
"I am not!" was Teddie's quiet but distinct-noted reply.
"Are yuh goin' to be?" queried the narrow-eyed Gunboat.
"I am not going to be," replied Teddie, with an opaque eye on a slightly crestfallen young attorney.
Gunboat shook his cauliflower ear in a little nod of comprehension. Then he turned back to the girl.
"All right, then. I'm takin' care of yuh. Remember that. We'll cut out the hot-air artists and get busy. And that brings us round to this newspaper boob. He's got the whole story of what's been happenin' here, and he's talkin' big about puttin' it into print. I heard him wit' my own——"
"He won't put it into print," interrupted Gerry.
"What'll stop him?" demanded the man of battle.
"The knowledge of what we'd both do to him if he tried it," announced the expounder of law, doing his best to overlook Gunboat's oblique glance of contempt. "And the further knowledge that he never even intended to put it into print."
"No, putting things into print doesn't seem to be my business any more," interpolated the morose-eyed Lipsett.
"Then why——" began Gunboat, but he was interrupted by the trill of the telephone bell. It was Teddie who finally crossed to the instrument and answered the call.
"It's for you, Mr. Dorgan," she said, without emotion, as she waited with the receiver in her hand.
"Oh, is that yuh, Ruby," Gunboat was murmuring a moment later, into the transmitter. He spoke in a strangely altered tone, a tone with even a touch of meekness in it. "All right, Ruby," he docilely agreed after several minutes of an obviously one-sided conversation. "Sure, Ruby, yuh're dead right." Then came the receiver's turn again, with an amending "Whatever yuh say, Ruby," gently intoned into the transmitter.
If Teddie garnered any inkling of that capitulating meekness on Gnnboat Dorgan's part, she gave out no echo of it in her own icy stare of disapproval as she stood regarding Gerald Rhindelander West. Even the rueful Louis Lipsett awakened to that oddly sustained duel of glances between the two silent figures on the far side of the room. He awakened, in fact, to the all-pervading, three-cornered preoccupation which surrounded him. And he made hay while the sun shone. He took advantage of that momentary inattention and slipped from his chair. He tiptoed discreetly out of the room and hurried away into the comparative quietness of Fourth Street, where he caught a Broadway surface-car and headed for the peace of Park Row.
Gunboat Dorgan, as he meditatively hung up the receiver, did not even miss the vanished newspaper man. He was too busy watching the strange couple still confronting each other on the far side of the studio. The girl, with ice-cold deliberation, pinned a tiptilted turban on her head, adjusted a four-piece blue-fox throw about her shoulders, and drew on a pair of wrinkled-topped gloves.
"Where are you going?" demanded the dark-browed expounder of the law, in a tone savoring unmistakably of the caveman age.
"I regard that as entirely my own affair," retorted the girl in blue-fox, just as unmistakably reverting to the age of ice.
"Where are you going?" repeated the neolithic young giant in tweeds.
"Will you kindly permit me to open my own door?" said Teddie, with her chin up.
"Where are you going!" demanded Gerry, for the third and last time.
For one long moment of silence Teddie inspected him as though he were something under plate-glass, something behind Zoo bars.
"I'm going home!" she finally told him.
"Why?" exacted her altogether too obtuse tormentor.
"Because I'm tired of all this!" was the intense but low-noted reply.
"Of all what?" demanded the bewildered Gerry.
"Of seeing everything that's most sacred in life mauled over in public of being mauled over myself as though I was something marked down on a bargain-counter of finding out that all men are so so disgusting and degradingly alike!"
It seemed to take time for Gerry to digest this. And even with time the process appeared to be unattended by any great degree of satisfaction.
"Haven't I been doing what I could for you?" he demanded, with the air of a man who asked only for reason.
"Are you worrying about your fee?" countered the pale-cheeked Teddie.
"I don't want a fee," said Gerry.
"Then what is it you want?"
Gerry tried to square his shoulders, "I want you!"
She met his eye, but it took an effort. And Gerry, for the life of him, couldn't help thinking once more of the milk-snake in the chocolate-box.
"How about my wishes in the matter?" she asked with a slow and pointed emphasis which brought a wince to even Gunboat Dorgan's Celtic eyes.
"Just a minute, yuh folks," suggested the perturbed man of the ring. "This actin' as though yuh was married for ten years ain't goin' to bury any tomahawks and end the war-dance! There's been too much pullin' at cross——"
But it was Gunboat's turn to be interrupted. That final interruption came in the form of the unceremonious flinging back of the studio-door, disclosing the bristling but the immaculate figure of Teddie's Uncle Chandler.
"What's wrong here, Teddie?" demanded that perplexed-eyed old gentleman, striding into the room with all the dignity his sciatica would permit.
"She wants to go home," said Gerry. And as he said those five words in a singularly dull tone his hands went down to his sides. The movement, in some way, was oddly suggestive of flying colors forlornly lowered.
"Well, that impresses me as an eminently sane and respectable place to want to go to," remarked the old Major as he blinked from one to the other of the odd trio confronting him. But his eye, for some reason, was on Gerald Rhindelander West when he spoke next, though his question, obviously, was addressed to Teddie. "And just when do you want to go, my dear?"
"As soon as you can get me away from here," was Teddie's prompt but low-noted reply.
Ceremoniously the old Major held out his crooked right arm and dolorously the girl in the blue-fox took it. Neither of them spoke until they came to a stop beside the wine-colored shopping-car.
"I never intend to speak to Gerry West again as long as I live," announced Teddie, with a combined suddenness and fierceness which made her Uncle Chandler forget his left hip-joint as he climbed into the car beside her.
He patted her knee, comprehendingly.
"Under the circumstances, then," he observed as she made the motor whine with an altogether unnecessary jab on the accelerator, "it'll be just as well, Teddikins, if you don't see him for a week or two!" …
Back in the dismal emptiness of the dismal gray studio Gerry and Gunboat stood looking at each other. Then Gunboat sighed fraternally and essayed an owl-like wag of the head."They're all alike, them women!" he remarked with the sagacity of one who has survived many unfair ordeals at the hands of the fair.